< Muted U.S. Public Reaction to British Tabloid Scandal

Transcript

Friday, July 22, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The media are all over this story. How can we blame them? It’s a newspaper scandal reaching the highest levels of government. Plus, it has the one story element no journalist can resist, other journalists.

Meanwhile, some of Murdoch's media properties, The Times of London for instance, made a ham-handed attempt at deflection, with a cartoon that shows starving Somalians saying, “we've had a bellyful of phone hacking,” which one BBC journalist called a disgraceful attempt to quote, “imply that focusing on corruption allows famine to go unchecked.”

Meanwhile, FOX News has described the feeding frenzy, and it is one, as a witch hunt. But at least in America, the public apparently doesn't share the media's fascination. According to the Pew Research Center the hacking scandal was one of the most covered stories last week, second only to coverage of the deficit and the U.S. debt ceiling.

But, according to Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut, when the public was asked which story they were following most closely, only four percent chose this one.

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

Which made it among the least closely followed stories of the week. The debt story and the economy were the dominant stories last week.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Other stories that were followed more than the News of the World story -- Women's World Cup Soccer, State and Local budgets. Coming in at number five and tied with the 2012 Election, the News of the World hacking scandal.

ANDREW  KOHUT:

You know, it's really not that surprising. It's about something that's not happening in this country. And while Mr. Murdoch owns and the News Corporation owns FOX News and the Wall Street Journal and other things here in the United States, that’s not widely known by the American public.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Republicans and Democrats showed very different interest levels though, right?

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

It was interesting; 21 percent of Democrats said it was the story that they were following very closely, compared to just 5 percent of Republicans.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Republicans followed it four times less than the Democrats.

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

Right. And that may be a reflection of the fact that Republicans are more aware of the conservative nature of the Murdoch news organizations, rather. It's not a positive story. There's more interest in bad news about someone one disagrees with than there is interest in bad news with someone one agrees with.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

There is frequently an argument over whether the media give the public what it wants or what it needs and how well it tracks with the public's interest. You know, people will say, the Casey Anthony story, it's just a fascinating tabloid story, and so cable news covered it thoroughly, even though it's not that important a story.

Do you think in this case there was just a serious disconnect? Or do the media frequently misapprehend what the public really is interested in.

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

Well, the job of the media, as we would both agree, is to cover the stories that it considers important, not only the stories that the public has an interest in. It’s convenient when both of those things converge.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Some people call that elitist, Andy.

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

[LAUGHS] And it’s, it’s term - to base one’s coverage on what, what’s thought to be important in the public interest is elitist?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
I raised this with former CNN President Jonathan Klein in discussing coverage of the runaway bride, and he accused me of elitism. ANDREWW  KOHUT:

Well, I’m not going to get into this wrangle.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

Sometimes the public will stay with the story or get ahead of the story. In other cases, the media is more intensely following a news story than the public.

When you come to a story like this that is about the media, it's a little more difficult to make a judgment about whether this disparity reflects the media paying more attention to something that's in the public interest or whether it's paying more attention to something that it's interested in, because it’s a part of its world.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Thank you very much, Andrew.

ANDREWW  KOHUT:

You're welcome.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Andrew Kohut is president of the Pew Research Center for People in the Press.

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